There are few things more heartbreaking to an Italian food lover than finding out they are gluten intolerant, but chef Jemiko L. Solo is working to give them back their beloved pastas.
Senza Gluten (“senza” means “without” in Italian) opened just after Christmas in Greenwich Village, offering a haven to those with celiac disease by being 100 percent gluten-free, a rarity even in this city’s health-conscious food scene.
“When you are gluten-free, you miss the pastas, lasagnas, a nice tiramisu and other sweet desserts,” Solo says. “The other day somebody told me, ‘Chef Jemiko, thank you so much! It’s been five years since I’ve had a lasagna.’”
Solo, a native of the Republic of Georgia, grew up working in kitchens after the death of his father when he was 14 years old. In 2002, he came to the United States to pursue his dream of becoming a pastry chef and graduated from the Art Institute of New York City in 2005.
Then, his path changed.
After learning about his gluten-sensitive friends’ worries when eating out, he wanted to create a place where they could eat risk-free. “I promised them, a year and a half ago, and said, ‘Guys, don’t worry, one day I’m going to do a little Italian restaurant for you so that you’re safe, safe, safe,” he says.
He knew that merely offering gluten-free options was not enough: “Flour can stay 48 hours in the air, so no matter how clean you are it can be damaging to people’s health.”
Creating his gluten-free dishes, without losing the texture and taste that come with eliminating pasta’s main ingredient, was a difficult feat. “I mix some flours and match them up with others; sometimes it doesn’t work, so I do another batch and another until I reach a certain point where I’m happy,” he says.
“Right now I’m working on a cauliflower crust pizza. It’s not crispy yet but I’m slowly getting it just right, and that’s the best part.”